Crown of Success


13. The Wonderful Boy

That evening Dick and his dark companion Pride sat in his cottage together. The boy looked out of spirits or out of temper. Perhaps his cut still pained him; perhaps the perpetual patter of the shower which was falling made him gloomy and dull, for a violent rain had come on, which continued during the whole of that night.

"Who would have thought," said Pride, "that lazy Lubin and lame Nelly would have mounted so bravely to the top of Multiplication staircase, and have carried back, safely over Bother, such nice little grates of Addition? You must really look sharp, Dick Desley, or they'll furnish their cottages before you."

"Before me!" exclaimed Dick, with a sneer. "I could do more with my little finger than Lubin with all his fat fist."

"Certainly," observed Pride, "it would be an intolerable disgrace to a clever fellow like you if you let any one get before you. You are not one who would endure to see another winning from you the crown of Success."

"I'll never see that," cried Dick, haughtily. "I should like to know who has a chance against me!"

"No one has the smallest chance against you, if you only exert yourself," said Pride. "If I were you I would put forth my powers, and do something to astonish them all."

"I will!" cried Dick, with decision. "I'll go to Arithmetic to-morrow, and bring back the three remaining sum-grates all at once. But what wretched weather we have this evening!" he exclaimed; "I'm afraid all the brightness of summer is going. And what's that on my wall--that dull stain as of damp, that seems creeping over my paper?"

"It is merely caused by the rain. I should think nothing of it," said Pride.

But Dick did think something of the stain. He saw that it marred the beauty of that upon which he had bestowed much diligent labour.

"I'll cross over to Nelly's cottage," he said, "and see if the damp is staining hers also."

Nelly was busy fixing in her grate. She looked upon her brother with a smile.

"How kind to come and see me through the rain!"

"I did not come to see you, but your paper. How is this?--there is not a damp spot upon it!"

"Nor on Lubin's neither," remarked Nelly. "But I was with Matty just now, and the damp shows sadly on her fairies."

"What on earth can make the difference?" cried Dick.

"I do not know, unless--unless--" Nelly hesitated before she added--"unless it be that both Matty and you used the paste that Pride recommended."

"That has nothing to do with it," said Dick, as he quitted the cottage in displeasure.

But Nelly had been right in her guess. There will be an ugly stain upon any work which we only pursue with zeal because we want to outdo others in it.

Dick did not make his appearance on the following morning at the breakfast-table. The children still took their meals at the house Needful till their cottages should be better prepared.

"I am so glad that it has stopped raining," said Nelly, when she had finished her breakfast. "I have been wishing for the weather to clear, for I promised Mr. Arithmetic that I would go back for the grate of Division. Matty, dear, you will come with us to-day?"

Matty had come down to breakfast in a dress almost as ridiculously fine as that worn by Miss Folly herself. She tossed her head, and replied,--

"I've something better to do than to buy, or carry, or scrub wretched sum-grates of Arithmetic. I'm going out with Miss Folly, to be introduced to some of her friends."

"But, Matty, the grates are quite necessary," urged Nelly. "We are soon to take up our quarters in our cottages, and sleep there as well as work. What shall we do when the cold weather comes if we've no means of having a fire?"

"How shall we cook our dinners?" asked Lubin. "If there's one thing more useful in a house than anything else, I should say it is a grate in the kitchen."

"Oh, Miss Folly tells me never to look forward to winter," cried Matty, "but just enjoy myself while I can. So I am not going to plague myself with either Addition or Division to-day. To look after such vulgar things is only a shopkeeper's business."

"But what will mother say," persisted Nelly, "if she find your cottage unfurnished?"

"Unfurnished, indeed!" cried Matty. "It will be far better furnished than yours. I mean to have French mirrors, and Italian paintings, and German glass and china. I shall get a tambourine also, and perhaps some day a guitar. Miss Folly tells me that Lady Fashion, her most particular friend, has all these; and though they make a fine show, they are not so dear as one would think."

"They are all good and beautiful things, I daresay," began Nelly; "but--"

"But grates must come before mirrors, and carpets before German china," laughed Lubin. "We must buy what is needful first, and think of what is pretty afterwards."

"That may be your way; but it is not my way, and it was never the way of Miss Folly," cried Matty, as she flaunted out of the house.

"I wonder at Dick being so late," observed Nelly; "we ought to be off to the town."

"He is not late, but early," said Lubin. "He had had his breakfast, and started for the town of Education, before I was out of my bed."

"I wish that he had waited for us," cried Nelly; "it is so nice to go through our work all together. You and I had now better set off."

"I'm going presently," replied Lubin. "I've just five minutes to spare; and I'm about to step round to Amusement's bazaar, hard by here, to get a few barley-sugar drops, to refresh me on my wearisome walk."

"I think that you had better delay your visit to the bazaar until you have done your business with Mr. Arithmetic. Our mother's proverb, you know, is, 'Duty first, and pleasure afterwards.' The sky is dark, the weather uncertain; we may be stopped from going altogether if we do not start off at once."

"I should like to be stopped altogether," said Lubin, with a smile. "I should not care if I never took another journey to the town of Education."

"What! after all that you said to Matty about the necessity of grates?"

"Ah, yes; they are needful enough, but they are not needed just at this moment. You may go on if you like it, I'll get my sugar-drops first. Set off now, I'll soon overtake you; I won't spend much time at Amusement's."

Nelly sighed, but she saw that there was no use in further entreaty, so she set forth alone. The path down hill was slippery and wet from the rain that had fallen at night--a sister's kind word, or a brother's strong arm, would have been a real comfort now to the lame little girl. Often and often did Nelly turn and look behind her, to see if Lubin were not following after; but in vain she looked, not a sign appeared on the hill of the fat little sluggard.

Nelly came to the stream of Bother. The brook was muddy and swollen, and went racing on faster than usual. The stepping-stones were scarcely seen above the brown waters that eddied around them.

"Oh dear, oh dear; I wish that Lubin or Dick were with me!" cried poor Nelly, as she gave one more anxious glance behind her. "It is miserable to have to go alone across such a stream as this." She put her little foot upon the first stone, she fancied that it trembled beneath her weight--then on the next, she was almost in the water. It was nothing but a strong sense of duty that made the poor child go on. With trembling steps and dizzy brain she proceeded on her dangerous way, and great was her relief when she reached in safety the farther shore.

"One difficulty is happily past, but how shall I enter the great town all alone? how shall I climb the wearisome stair? how shall I face cold stern Mr. Arithmetic, with no brother or sister to back me?" such were the reflections of Nelly as she made her way slowly along the muddy lane of Trouble. Some of my readers may have experienced what a dull and discouraging thing it is to do business all by one's self in the town of Education.

One difficulty, however, Nelly found less great than she had expected it to be. It is a curious fact, but well known to all, that those who have once mounted Multiplication staircase never complain any more of its steepness. Nelly ascended it without a single stumble, till, when she had almost reached the top, she met her brother Dick coming down from Mr. Arithmetic's. What was her astonishment to see the strong boy laden with three grates fastened together, Division, Subtraction, Multiplication, placed one on the top of another!

"O Dick, you can never carry all that at once!"

"I do carry all at once, as you may see," replied Dick, with a smile of triumph; "I'd advise you to get out of my way, lest I knock you over the staircase."

"Surely, surely you can't bear that great burden across the swollen brook, or up the steep hill."

"Take no fears for me: I can't fail with the crown of Success in my view!" exclaimed Dick, bearing his three grates aloft, as some warrior might carry his banner.

"If you would only wait a few minutes for me," began Nelly, but Dick at once cut her short.

"I wait for nobody!" he cried, pushing past his lame little sister. "If you had been up this morning as early as I was, you might have enjoyed the pleasure of my company." And so saying, Dick and his iron grates went clattering down the staircase.

Alone poor Nelly entered the shop, alone she took up her purchase, and alone she descended the twelve flights of steps, trembling under the weight of Division, which she had found a much more serious burden than little Addition had been.

"How could Dick carry three grates at a time," thought Nelly, "when one is almost more than I can support. But then I'm a poor, stupid, lame, little creature, and Dick--oh, Dick is a wonderful boy!"